On Monday morning, I’ll be sending my novel – Invincible Summer – out into the world in search of an agent. It’s a story I love and have carried in my heart for many years, so I will be releasing it from my laptop with hope… and not a little trepidation.
Invincible Summer tells the story of Maggie MacDonald, a twenty-one year-old Scottish nurse, who finds herself thrown into the crucible of World War Two when she volunteers for the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service. Despite facing many dangers, Maggie survives the war, but struggles to survive the peace.
I always find it interesting to find out where authors find the inspiration for their stories, so here’s a little background on Invincible Summer.
Back in 19-something or other, I received a commission as a Lieutenant in the Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps – Reserve. (QARANC) The Reserve part means that I was in the Territorial Army, living my normal daily life, attending training sessions once a week and a minimum of two full training weekends a year. Should Britain have gone to war, I would have been called up to serve with the Military Hospital to which I was attached.
I also had the opportunity to attend a one-week Junior Officers Training Course in Aldershot, and during that time, we were taken to visit the QA Museum. (Now part of the Army Medical Services Museum.) There were all kinds of fascinating items on display, but two objects in particular caught my attention and ultimately inspired Invincible Summer.
The first was a rosary made from tiny bits of tar, looped together with thread taken from the uniform worn by an inmate Roman Catholic priest at Belsen Concentration camp. As I remember it, he gave it to the QA who ‘saved his life’. Until that time I hadn’t realised British army nurses had been amongst the first military personnel into the concentration camps following their liberation in 1945. Accounts of what they experienced are horrific, but those young women cared for their patients with kindness and professionalism.
The second was a QA cape. Inside were sewn army badges from many of the patients its owner had cared for; soldiers from all services in the British Army, Canadians, Australians and more. Remember that most of these QAs were young women in their early 20s, fresh out of nursing training. As commander of the British Army, Field Marshall Montgomery ordered that QAs serve as close to the front line as possible to raise the morale of the fighting soldiers. And whereas nurses in civilian hospitals were expressly forbidden to wear make-up or perfume, a hint of lippy and scent was actively encouraged amongst the QAs – again to raise morale.
That week in Aldershot, I also had the opportunity to meet the inspiring Dame Margot Turner who I have spoken about in a previous blog. (Someone really needs to make a film about her life!) And I also picked up a book where I learned that at the start of World War Two there were six hundred and forty or so serving QAs scattered around what was still the British Empire. However, less than ten months later, 1,300 young QAs found themselves standing shoulder to shoulder with the soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force awaiting rescue from the beaches of Dunkirk. Until then, I had NO idea there were army nurses at Dunkirk.
The road to submitting Invincible Summer has been a long one. Working with my writing partner Margaret Thomson, we drew up a first draft of a novel entitled ‘Promises’ which told the story of 3 young student nurses who meet in Glasgow in 1936 and follows their lives through to 1946. We followed that up with an idea for a TV series, ‘The Scarlet and The Grey’, focusing on 4 QAs in a Field Hospital in World War 2 France. A major British production company shopped The Scarlet and The Grey around the TV networks… but sadly it didn’t get picked up.
And now comes Invincible Summer. Please wish it well as it sets out on its journey in search of a publisher.